Glass Containers

Lighter materials have helped cull glass from the waste stream.

Glass containers are made from sand, limestone, soda ash, cullet (crushed bottles) and various additives, including those used to color brown, green or blue bottles.

About half of the bottles produced in the United States are clear (also known as flint), followed closely by brown bottles. Most of the remainder are green with a small amount of blue or other colors.

In 2008, approximately 35 billion glass containers were made in the United States. Close to 80 percent were beverage containers, and close to 60 percent were beer bottles. The rest were mostly food containers. Another 5 billion bottles were imported. Most of these were wine and beer bottles.

Glass container use in the United States increased by 5.3 million tons between 1960 and 2007. However, the glass container market share of MSW declined in the same time period by 36 percent as lightweight aluminum and plastic containers replaced heavier glass bottles.

Other glass products such as window glass, fiberglass, and glassware use different manufacturing processes and different additives than container glass. This profile does not cover non-container glass.

Chaz Miller is state programs director for the National Solid Wastes Management Association, Washington. E-mail him at: [email protected].


Current Industrial Reports, U.S. Census Bureau,

Glass Packaging Institute, Alexandria, Va.,

“Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recycling Coalition,

“Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2007 Facts and Figures,” U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, 2008,

“Scrap Specifications Circular 2008,” Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries,

Data is from 2007 EPA estimates, except where noted.



  • 11.47 million tons, or 4.5% by weight.

  • 79.37 pounds per person per year.

  • 135 bottles per person per year.

  • Average glass bottle weighs 8 oz.


  • 3.2 million tons, or a 28.1% recycling rate.

  • 11 states require deposits on glass beverage containers.

Recycled Content:

  • 26% (U.S. produced bottles).

  • A glass bottle can have up to 70% recycled content.


  • Glass is not compostable.

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 8.25 million tons, or 4.9% of discarded MSW by weight.

  • Glass is inert in landfills.

  • Glass is non-combustible and generally forms a slag in incinerators.

Landfill Volume:

  • 5.5 million cubic yards, or 1.3% of landfilled MSW in 1997.


  • Landfilled glass bottles weigh 2,800 pounds per cubic yard (lbs/cy).

  • Loose glass bottles weigh 600 lbs/cy.

  • Crushed glass bottles weigh 1,000 - 2,000 lbs/cy.

Source Reduction:

  • Glass bottles were reduced in weight by more than 50% between 1970 and 2000.

  • Substituting plastic or aluminum containers for glass resulted in 5 million fewer tons of glass in the waste stream in 2000.

Recycling Markets:

  • The majority of recovered glass is made into new glass bottles. Fiberglass is the second largest market.

  • Other markets include abrasives, “glassphalt” for roads, glass beads for reflective paint and filler in storm and French drains.

  • A small amount is exported for recycling.

End-Market Specifications:

  • ISRI Guidelines for Glass Cullet: GC-2008 cover color-specific specifications for container glass cullet.

  • Should be free of excess moisture.

  • Prohibited materials include non-container glass, metals, rocks and ceramic closures.